Russia to Return Seized Ukrainian Ships ahead of Talks

As Russia prepares for a summit to try to resolve the conflict with Ukraine, Moscow has decided to return Ukrainian navy ships seized a year ago, Vedomosti reported on Saturday.

“In accordance with agreements concluded with the Ukrainian side, three Ukrainian ships… are being towed from the port of Kerch to an approved transfer point,” border officials with the Russian secret service told Russian media.

The transfer was to take place on Monday, they added.

The TV channel Crimea 24 released footage of the three Ukrainian boats being towed by the Russian coastguard across the Kerch Strait.

The ships are seen passing under the Crimea Bridge spanning the strait, built by Moscow to link Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed in 2014.

In November last year, Russia seized the two Ukrainian gunboats and a tugboat as they headed through the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway giving access to the Sea of Azov that is used by Ukraine and Russia. Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner at the time returned to Ukraine in September as part of an exchange.

On Friday, the French presidency announced a summit involving France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in Paris on December 9 to discuss ways to resolve the wider conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The summit was made possible by “major advances” since Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in late April, the French presidency said.